Molasses is less a band and more a collective, an assortment of Montreal musicians from other groups. Trouble at Jinx Hotel, the collaborators’ fourth album, began with Scott Chernoff’s simple guitar songs. He then invited artists from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the Shalabi Effect, Codeine, and other groups to flesh out his pieces, primarily through improvisation. The process sounds like one that would lead to a disjointed album with an aura of randomness, but the 16 musicians featured on the disc have managed to produce a cohesive album with gentle orchestration and a steady tone of slightly experimental Americana.
Trouble at Jinx Hotel opens with a distant air-raid siren on “Siren’s Song”. The noise accurately reflects not alarm, but distance. These songs aren’t the sound that wakes you up with a jolt in the middle of the night, but the kind that hover about as you slip in and out of sleep. Chernoff whispers, “We’re frightened, and sickened / And utterly strickened,” and he spells out the feelings of his narrators. The songs’ slow tempos and easy movement belie the strong feelings of the lyrics.
These passions extend beyond the personal and into the political. “La La La, Amerika” rolls right out of its predecessor “Siren’s Song” with continuing music, but adds lyrics based on the Statue of Liberty’s inscription. “We’re tired, Mother, and we’re poor / We’re wretched at your teeming shore / We’re homeless and tossed by the storm,” sings Chernoff as he looks in the dark for the light of the US. He doesn’t find it, and the closing violins shift being a voice of melancholy to being one of longing.
This brief expression doesn’t mean that Molasses is a group that’s vocally leftist. The band’s concerns tend to stay to the individual, but do examine her place in her culture. “Saint Christopher’s Blues” asks the question, “Why are you so terrified?” among slow piano and violin. In the world that Molasses constructs, the lostness doesn’t reside only because of one’s heart, but because of the frightful condition of the world. Molasses follows this song about being lost with “Sign of Judgment”, which worries about the place of justice and religion. The ambient noises keep the sense of fear prevalent even as the folk music and the soft vocals maintain their balance.
By this point in Trouble at Jinx Hotel, Molasses has provided four strong songs, but it’s varied its sound very little. “Lynn Canyon Wedding Song” provides a slightly softer touch even with its subtle background psychedelia, but it’s no longer a captivating sound. Fortunately, sharp back-up vocals on the chorus line “Take me back east” throw a new feeling into the mix, but it doesn’t shift gears enough. “Lynn Canyon Wedding Song” is a pretty little number despite some throwaway lines (“I came for Abel / You came for Cain / And we danced on the table / Between the cradle and the grave”), but it represents the beginning of the album’s one weakness: it’s repetitive.
That said, each of the songs stands up well on its own. The album works well as mood-setting background music, and its few moments of experimentation add to the CD without feeling jarring. Many of the songs warrant multiple listens, but getting through the album from start-to-finish proves to be a little difficult due to the pervasive sameness. It’s surprising, because each track is so well-orchestrated and beautifully performed. All Trouble at Jinx Hotel needs are a few changes in tempo or instrumentation to really be a powerful album; instead, it comes just so close.